As the years have passed, the field of unconventional warfare has grown, including the development of chemical warfare. Even in ancient times, armies used unconventional means, such as poisoning water supplies, causing plagues and disease, etc. During the First World War chlorine gas was used to neutralize the capabilities of armies and the home front. As these weapons were improved, their threat grew ever more fearsome. In the Iran-Iraq war widespread use was made of unconventional weapons and the injury to the civilian population was horrendous.
Chemical weapons are designed to harm the body, based on its physiological characteristics. The extent of the injury is usually great. The severity of the injury is usually directly proportional to the degree of concentration of the chemical materials to which the body is exposed, and the duration of the exposure.Injury from these materials can come from different sources: the launch of chemical warheads, delivery of chemicals from place to place through the transport of poisonous loads, etc.
Chemical warfare is defined and classified on the basis of two main characteristics: • Degree of toxicity – the extent of the damage that can be caused by the weapon when it contacts the human body.• Speed of effect – the amount of time it takes from the moment the chemical material penetrates the body until symptoms of injury appear. The effect can be either immediate or delayed.
At present, there are four possible ways of penetrating the body with chemical weapons:• Through the respiratory system• By contact with the eyes• Through the digestive system• By contact with the skin
Penetration of chemicals through the respiratory system or by means of contact with the eyes is often more severe than penetration by contact with the skin or through the digestive system.The chemical materials can appear in any of three possible states:1. Solid – the material in its frozen form2. Liquid3. Aerosol – (a state somewhere between a liquid and a gas – spray).
Most chemical weapons are launched in liquid form and are converted to a gas only when the material is dispersed. The robustness of a chemical weapon (highest in a solid state) is the measure of its ability to remain active in the field after it is dispersed, until the dangerous material is no longer poisonous. The chemical materials are commonly odorless. Some of them do actually have a smell, but for use as weapons of war, preference is given to those that are odorless so that it will be more difficult to identify the material.Injury by chemical weapons necessitates that the victim be removed from contact with the material as rapid as possible. That is, quick evacuation of the wounded from the site, so that they can then be stripped and detoxified.
Nerve agents are among the most toxic and dangerous of all chemical weapons. They are colorless, odorless and tasteless, and are capable of killing large numbers of people quickly and without warning.The material occurs in either a liquid or gaseous state, or as a spray (fine liquid droplets).The penetration of nerve gas into the human body interferes with the regular function of the nervous system, and it acts very quickly. Symptoms of nerve gas injury include (in the order of their appearance): runny nose, chest pressure, blurred sight, difficulty in breathing, increased sweating, nausea and vomiting. The appearance of at least two of these symptoms is an indication of such an injury.A person stricken with nerve gas loses control over the muscles of his body, convulses, sweats and loses sphincter control. The action of nerve gas is relatively swift. The reason for death is usually respiratory or cardiac arrest. Most nerve gases enter the body through the respiratory system.
Mustard gas, affects the human cell culture system. When it enters the body, cell culture stops, which causes the appearance of blisters on the skin. Symptoms of poisoning appear only hours after exposure. The material is usually a liquid aerosol spray and the blisters are not caused by heat, but by chemical action. These chemical warfare agents may cause death if breathed into the lungs and are a cause of pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs). For this reason, it is critically important to be in a sealed room and to wear a mask.Note: infliction with mustard gas is not usually life threatening.